Bunting House injunction denied; demolition begins

A judge has refused to block the demolition of the 19th century Bunting House in Roxborough, clearing the way for the owners’ plans to raze it and three other vacant buildings in the 5900 block of Ridge Avenue.

“Given the danger posed by the vacant and vandalized buildings, I believe they will start [demolition] ASAP,” lawyer Carl Primavera said of owners Frank and Anthony Giovannone. The brothers bought the stone house, once home to prominent Roxborough physician Dr. Ross Bunting, in September, 2011.

At a hearing Monday, Frank Giovannone told Common Pleas Court Judge Idee C. Fox they had originally bought the Bunting House property intending to keep it, but changed courses after acquiring the adjacent, and more run-down, properties at 5905, 5907 and 5909 Ridge Ave.

Though the house, most recently home to the Erb Law Firm, is not formally designated historic and not included in any preservation districts, many in the community rallied to its defense. More than 1,100 people signed an online petition calling for the property’s preservation after a demolition permit was issued in September. 

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Opponents appear to be moving forward with other methods of appeal of the demolition permit, but without a court injunction, the Giovannones could knock the building down before the scheduled Zoning Board of Appeals hearing, set for 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 2. 

That’s a scenario described by attorney Hal Schirmer, who is representing the civic organizations trying to save the Bunting House, as being akin to appealing a death penalty after it’s already been carried out. In court, Schirmer argued that because the demolition permit was obtained listing a future use for the parcel as a “vacant lot,” which is not one of the allowable uses in that commercial zone, it should be invalidated.

The Giovannones have said they plan to clear the entire corner for commercial development, including possible national chains, including fast-food restaurants, banks and similar retailers. The properties sit outside the zoning overlay that guides development on a stretch of Ridge Avenue between Hermitage Street and Monastery Avenue.

Under the new zoning code, the parcels at Ridge and Roxborough avenues are classified CMX-2, a neighborhood retail district meant to encourage street-level commercial uses and discourage first-floor residential.

The specifics of the CMX-2 district are still in flux, however, as Councilman Brian O’Neill’s bills amending the city’s brand-new code are still under consideration. As PlanPhilly’s Jared Brey has reported, O’Neill’s move would further restrict certain uses within the zone, such as community gardens, and create a new commercial sub-zone called CMX 2.2. [Read the PlanPhilly story here]

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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